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18 Mar 2003 : Column 870—continued

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the case for war has not been made; that is why I voted for the amendment a few weeks ago. Is the issue before us now whether we have more time? Is not the real issue whether the Americans act on their own or bilaterally with us? That is the only choice. The choice that we have to make tonight is whether the world is made a safer place by the United States acting on its own, or with us having some influence and being alongside it while the war is conducted? My inclination is for the latter proposition. I should like to know the hon. Gentleman's view.

Mr. Marsden: It is for every Member of the House to decide how they will vote tonight. It does not make it any better—any more right—if Britain decides to support the military operation. We should not feel that we are being bullied into that, or that we have to show our willingness to be partners in crime with the US by going into Iraq now. It is a great pity that the Prime Minister did not show more resolve earlier on in order to influence a US President to stop where we are now.

I accept what the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) says. Tonight we are on the verge of war. Thousands of our troops will be putting their lives in danger. I salute their courage and professionalism, and I would not thank—[Laughter.] Please do not laugh. This is a serious issue. We will face dreadful consequences not just in the next few weeks, but possibly for the next 10, 20 or 30 years. We will reap what we sow.

I say to each hon. Member: think so carefully. I want you to be able to look your children in the eye in years to come and say that you did everything you possibly could to stop the war and keep your conscience clear. To answer the hon. Gentleman, I say it is up to you. It is up to each and every one of us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Marsden: My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is up to each and every hon. Member to decide for themselves.

In the final analysis, what kind of peace do we seek? Is it a genuine peace that we strive for? Is it peace in our time or peace for all time? Right around the globe, we all cherish our children's future. We all breathe the same air and we are all mortal. Those were the words of an American President in 1962 after the Cuban missile crisis, when the world almost came to grief. It almost destroyed itself. We have to think so carefully. I would say that hon. Members should vote against the Government tonight and vote for peace.

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7.56 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): The British people do not want war. A million people marched in London against war. None of us wants war. Nine million people signed a pledge before the second world war. We are not a war-loving nation, but war cannot now be stopped. Our choice today is not whether to prevent war—we cannot do so—but whether we join the US in toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and have influence in the post-war settlement in Iraq and the peace process in Palestine, or stand to one side and watch the US act alone.

No one wants war, and no one has worked harder to prevent war than the Prime Minister. Early last year, the US policy was unilateral regime change through pre-emptive military strike. Saddam Hussein's position was that weapons inspectors would never be allowed back into Iraq, yet the influence of our Government, at great political cost, moved the US from a position of unilateral strike to disarmament through UN weapons inspectors. After 12 years and 16 UN resolutions that had left Iraq a threat to the world, the world united behind resolution 1441 demanding immediate disarmament, backed by the credible threat of US military action. It was only the threat of serious consequences that forced Saddam to let the inspectors back in.

Every concession that Saddam has made has been from fear of serious consequences. Without that threat, Hans Blix would not have been allowed to find weapons in Iraq, any more than we can find IRA arms in Northern Ireland. Yet, tragically, the unity of purpose of resolution 1441 that gave the inspectors their leverage has been weakened by the grandstanding of Jacques Chirac threatening the French veto, corrosively undermining the credible threat of force on which co-operation and disarmament rely.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I find the argument confusing. My hon. Friend says that the credible threat of force is causing Saddam Hussein to react favourably to us. How is the credible threat of force reduced by the French action when everyone, including everyone present in the Chamber, knows that war is about to be unleashed upon Saddam Hussein?

Geraint Davies: War could have been prevented. We would have had disarmament by now, had the French not been waving their veto and if there had been unity of purpose. As a result of the French corrosively undermining 1441, Saddam has spun out his concessions month after month as he knows we approach the hot Iraqi summer. That provides a safe haven from military action and a chance for further political division spun by the French.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. It is my certain recollection that Hans Blix asked for more time to complete a very successful inspection and destruction mission, but that the United States and Britain refused that extension of time. Hence, we are going to war.

Geraint Davies: My understanding is that Hans Blix said that there had not been active co-operation and

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compliance. Time is useful if there is co-operation, but that co-operation is not occurring. No hon. Member who studies the cold-blooded cynicism of the calculating and murderous Saddam Hussein could doubt that he is playing for time. Of course, Jacques Chirac is playing into his hands by using up that time with all this prevarication. If the UN had stayed at one in its resolve, peace would have been possible and we might have been in a position in which disarmament would have been continuous.

Even in the last minute of the last hour, when Britain has offered benchmarks for disarmament in a fixed time frame as the basis for a second resolution to avert war if Saddam disarms, the French have said that they will veto any second resolution, whatever it says. Even if that resolution gave Iraq a year to disarm, the French would still veto it, so the prospect of disarmament that is backed by the credible threat of force—the very basis of resolution 1441—is in tatters now and in future. Saddam knows that the French can be trusted—trusted to veto the will of the UN as expressed in resolution 1441 if it means a timetable for compliance. They want no ultimatum and no threat of force, and they have said so.

We face a stark choice: we can choose war without the express consent of the UN because the French have cast their veto even before the second resolution is framed or else do nothing, accept the veto to timetabled disarmament and hope that Saddam will voluntarily hand over his anthrax and biochemical weapons to UN inspectors whose authority is no longer backed by military force. That is not a credible option.

Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Geraint Davies: No, I will not.

The world has accepted through 17 UN resolutions that Saddam is an evil dictator who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people in gas attacks, torture and execution, invaded Iran and Kuwait, bombed Israel, developed a nuclear programme and holds stockpiles of biochemical weapons. If resolution 1441 is not enforced, the authority and effectiveness of the inspectors will crumble as they did in 1998, Saddam will rearm and dictators around the world will know that they can establish arsenals of biochemical death in the knowledge that the UN does not act to enforce its will.

No Member of this House wants war or wants to face the choice of taking action alongside the US without a second UN mandate or letting Saddam off the hook, but it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and watch the US act alone, lose our influence in making a post-conflict settlement in Iraq that respects all its ethnic groups, as well as its borders and mineral wealth, and lose our influence in bringing a lasting peace to Palestine. Let us be in no doubt—I say to my colleagues that if we are not there, the constitutional arrangements for Iraq will not be framed by the values that we share, but determined by the interests of the US, and the obligation to bring peace to Palestine will not be shaped by our ambition for a quality and lasting peace, but relegated by an all-powerful and all-isolated US that is suspicious of outside countries that choose to stand aside.

This is not a comfortable decision for any of us. We are all driven by what we believe to be right and forced into choices that we do not want to make. I believe that

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we must act even though there may be consequences that we do not like, as the alternative is a world of worse consequences. Our soldiers must know tonight that this Parliament will give them our support to liberate Iraq from an evil tyrant, remove the threat of biochemical attack and show the world that we will not accept a future of fear of the mass carnage of biochemical terror. However difficult or uncomfortable, we will take action to protect our freedoms, children and people, liberate the people of Iraq and build a world of peace and security where trust can be rebuilt in a future that we all must share.

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